There is no price too high. Sooner or later we will be confronted with all kinds of problems in this world.
Life God’s supreme miracle
By Ariel E. Noltze
It’s morning on a cold winter day, and I’m driving down the road. Misty winter landscapes pass by my window, devoid of any sun or greenery. For a moment the image of what must have been the beautiful perfection of the Garden of Eden comes to mind. How much beauty has been lost through sin! What a contrast between the freshness of that perfect creation and the dull winter colors!
My thoughts revolve around a man I met a week ago. Desperate, he had decided to end his life. After locking himself in his car, he soaked the interior and his clothes with gasoline and lit a match. A helicopter brought him to our burn care facility and a near-impossible mission began. We tried to bring back a life that had already decided to give up. In the end we lost the battle. How desperate must a person feel to see suicide as the only way out of their misery! Today we would meet for the last time in an autopsy room.
I am mentally reviewing the patients who are under my responsibility in the intensive burn care facility. Each room presents another tragedy. I am especially worried about the woman who has not yet regained consciousness since the night a fire consumed her home. How am I going to explain to this mother when she wakes up from the coma that she lost her three young children in the fire that disfigured her?
What a world, what pain! How disastrous when humans discover personally the secret of the knowledge of good and evil! Were Adam and Eve able to imagine the consequences of their sinful choice and what the terrible cost would be?
All of a sudden, a dangerous situation on the road forces me to let go of my thoughts and focus on the traffic. A driver approaching from the opposite direction has miscalculated while overtaking a truck. A violent turn of the steering wheel, several braking maneuvers—it could have ended tragically. But, once more, all is well. I can only thank God for having protected me from a serious accident. Moreover, I feel a deep gratitude for His care in a world in which death is the major rule of the game.
“Sooner or later we will be confronted with all kinds of problems in this world.”
Lost in these thoughts, I decide to listen to some music. I put a CD into the car stereo, and a song plays whose text exalts Christ as the Lord of life. It’s a nice song, and I enjoy it whenever I listen to it. But this time it’s different.
Today, somehow, I catch a glimpse of the magnitude of what God offers: Life! God offers life in a world marred by death. He offers life to me: to me, a mortal being with a body destined for death; to me, who cannot contribute anything to redeem myself from sin. He wants to reverse the countdown that began the day we were born and put us on the path to life. He who is life, “for in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9), has by His death on the cross put us once more within reach of the divine breath that breathed life into mud, which ultimately became Adam. He came to this world of dried-up raisins to invite us to become vines bursting with life. We no longer need to receive the wages of a fallen world. When we accept Christ, we have passed from death to life, because “the world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:17, NIV).
Clinging to this faith can help us face the worst tragedies without falling apart. While others despair, we have the assurance that God has a plan and that suffering will not last forever. Hope in the fulfillment of God’s promises makes all the difference. The certainty of living on the threshold of Christ’s second coming opens our eyes to a reality that goes far beyond the problems we experience right now.
As no marathon runners abandon their race a few meters from the finish line because of blisters on their feet, God’s children go forward in spite of trials. They may have their vision blurred by tears, but they keep their eyes fixed on the goal. Trusting in the Lord of life is how they receive the strength to continue.
Sooner or later we will be confronted with all kinds of problems in this world. Sickness is one of the most dreaded obstacles. Faced with serious health issues, we often cry out: “Lord, will You heal my loved one? Will You do a miracle? Is it Your will to heal me from this disease?”
Sometimes it seems that God does not answer our prayers. But God does answer! He has already given the definite answer: “Whoever has the Son has life” (1 John 5:12, NIV). It is almost too easy to believe. If we do not grasp this, we may pray for a miracle; and when no miracle comes, we will be discouraged by God’s apparent silence. We may even be tempted to think that God simply doesn’t hear our prayers, or even doubt His existence.
This is a trap, for He certainly always hears us. And if it sometimes seems that He remains silent it is because He has already given the answer: “She is not dead, but sleeping” (Luke 8:52).
It’s vital that we human beings possess this kind of “life insurance,” which guarantees life in the face of death (cf. John 11:25). Our insurance policy is to have the Son of God, the authentic resurrection and life. Christ is the wonderful formula that transforms death into a slumber.
This seems too simple. I can neither provide scientific evidence nor explain this medically. But God has said so, and we trust Him by faith. “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope,” writes Paul. “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. . . . For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess. 4:13-16). What more could God give His children?
So I continue driving with a renewed hope in my heart. I sense that, today, God helped me to see something important more clearly. And because I believe unshakably in the superabundant sufficiency of God’s power I follow the advice of the apostle Paul when he adds: “Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:18).
Ariel E. Noltze, M.D., is a specialist in plastic surgery and hand surgery. He works at a center of reconstructive surgery in Vienna, Austria, where he lives with his family.
Freedom in Christ is more than a concept. A paradox on freedom and captivity, Jeremiah always knew he had it coming: it was the Lord’s promise
A paradox on freedom and captivity
By Lael Caesar
Jeremiah is in trouble: he’s doing time in Judah’s maximum security facility, a place that is literally a mess, a cistern where he’s sunk into the mud.
Jeremiah always knew he had it coming: it was the Lord’s promise. From the time he called him as a kid the Lord had told him that he’d be in trouble—in trouble with kings, priests, and people without titles. But he would prevail because of the Lord’s promise, “I am with you to deliver you” (Jer. 1:19). So the trouble had come. But what about deliverance? Jerry wasn’t feeling very delivered in the mud and the darkness.
Except for one thing, a contradiction about his being locked up: his captors don’t seem to be able to put him far enough away to isolate him. “The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah . . . , while he was still confined in the court of the guard” (Jer. 33:1). It’s worth asking: how come prisoner Jerry is talking with people outside? We’ve arrested Jerry, handcuffed him, booked him, and put him away. He doesn’t have any landline in his cell, and he doesn’t have a cell phone concealed on his person, and we have jammed all the satellite transmissions and scrambled all the signals to make sure people in this high-security place don’t make any more trouble for us or themselves. But Jerry is still in steady contact with Someone outside.
It’s a paradox we can’t miss: Jeremiah is freer than the ones who have locked him up. He has means and levels of communication that they seem to have no access to, and that they seem incapable of controlling. The Lord who communicates with Jeremiah is under nobody’s control. He doesn’t depend on unjammed satellite communication. He needs nobody to help Him decipher or break Apple encryption codes. He is communication, the Word, and free to move as He chooses: He sweeps into a Philippian jail in rage and storm and breaks up all the manacles and releases all the chains; or He slips so quietly into a Herodian dungeon that Peter continues in unbroken slumber until he is awakened. Sin alone obstructs His communication with us, and hides His face from us (Isa. 59:1, 2). The real issue is not with God’s power to communicate, but with our disposition to listen. And the freedom that truly matters requires more than extraction from a mudhole in ancient Judah. Instead, it is about deliverance from sin’s slavery (Rom. 6:17, 20).
Why Jeremiah Is in Jail
You must be wondering, though, why Jeremiah is in jail. He is there “because Zedekiah king of Judah had shut him up, saying, ‘Why do you prophesy, saying, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I am about to give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he will take it” (Jer. 32:3). Jerry is in jail for preaching doom and gloom. King Zedekiah, his counselors, and the general citizenry will not believe naysayers’ stories about the end of Jerusalem, the end of their kingdom, and the end of their world. Preaching about the end of the world often enough engenders a rather poor reception from the people who live there. The solution, in Jeremiah’s case, is to imprison him for speaking the truth rather than affirming their lie like prophet Hananiah does (Jer. 28). Jeremiah is remembered as emotionally soft, but when it comes to truth he doesn’t bend.
The lie they believe is that Jerusalem will not fall to Babylon. It is a most astonishing lie, one that denies the facts before their eyes. The fact that they could believe something so outrageous, and deny something so obvious, should give serious pause to people today who balk at warnings about the end of their world: from “the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah” (Jer. 25:3) to this day that finds Jeremiah in the mud, the prophet has wept and thundered against king, priest, and people for their choice of apostasy over revival and reformation. The price of rejecting their God would be death, the sword, famine, and captivity, he warned (Jer. 15:2).
When Pashhur had him beaten and put in stocks for his truth telling, he announced that God had changed his name from Pashhur (probably liberation) to Magor-missabib (trouble all around [see Jer. 20:3]). Beyond that, Pashhur would watch impotently as the Lord gave his friends to the sword. And the Lord promised, “I will give over all Judah to the hand of the king of Babylon, and he will carry them away as exiles to Babylon (verse 4). Jerusalem’s wealth, all its produce, all its treasures, would be plundered and taken to Babylon” (verse 5).
The years have vindicated Jeremiah’s warnings. Nebuchadnezzar has come and come again, each time for further plunder, destruction, and enslavement. Spiritual giants Daniel and friends, no doubt along with other ignoble compromisers whose names we shall never know, were marched away nearly two decades earlier. King Jehoiachin and prophet Ezekiel have lived in exile now for a full decade themselves, following another of Babylon’s devastating raids. Four disastrous reigns have followed Josiah, and this, the fourth, will be the most disastrous of all.
Hamstrung by indecision and perverse counsel, Zedekiah sits upon the throne of David facing the truth with his eyes closed. This, his tenth year (Jer. 32:1), will turn to 11 and no more. In the prison of his own cowardice, his fear of his own citizens and advisors, he will summon the prisoner to secret consultation about the course he should follow (Jer. 38:14-18).
Who Then Is Free?
Our human capacity to believe and follow a lie can be its own unfathomable mystery, and the vacillating farce of Zedekiah’s person and reign stand witness to that mystery. For it is not for lack of evidence that he and his counselors dismiss Jeremiah as false or insane or, on some other account, dangerous. At the end, when the time comes, the wall is breached, and the words of the prophet come true, Zedekiah still does not find it possible to heed the prophetic counsel.
King he may have been, but he has always been bound—bound by his weakness of character, bound by his cowardice, bound by his inability to take a stand for truth. King he may be, but he never finds freedom. They slaughter his sons before his eyes, then gouge out his eyes and drag him to Babylon (Jer. 39:6, 7).
Jeremiah the prisoner gets the run of the land: Nebuchadnezzar’s officer tells him, “Look, the whole land is before you; go wherever it seems good and right for you to go” (Jer. 40:4). Jeremiah, it turns out, despite his stocks and dungeons, has always been free. For the truth has always made him free (John 8:32).
Lael Caesar, Adventist World associate editor, loves freedom in Jesus.
As the book of Ruth portrays the account, Ruth’s life clearly captures the sorrows as well as the joys that one may encounter as a refugee. Starting life as a poor widow in a foreign land was a seemingly insurmountable challenge. Yet, as the journey continued, the Lord “under whose wings” (Ruth 2:12) she had come to take refuge filled her empty basket through the generosity of Boaz. Indeed, Boaz was a tangible refuge for Ruth and epitomized the ultimate Refuge—the Lord Himself.
Interestingly, the image of God as a refuge is found in the book of Psalms nearly 50 times. In fact, as part of His covenant laws, God clearly revealed how His people should treat the refugee (or stranger) in their midst. One of these laws is the law about the firstfruits ceremony in Deuteronomy 26:1-11.
The principles underlying this ceremony help us discover God as the ultimate Refuge for any refugee. Perhaps she had an empty basket in her hand and the following question on her mind. Will I, a foreigner, be able to find favor in someone’s sight and fill my basket today?
In it we find a basket; a basket filled with the firstfruits of the harvest; a basket brought to be presented before the Lord first, and later to be eaten together with the priests and strangers. Certainly the principles underlying this ceremony help us discover God as the ultimate Refuge for any refugee. Commenting on this law, Ellen White writes, “These directions, which the Lord gave to His people, express the principles of the law of the kingdom of God, and they are made specific, so that the minds of the people may not be left in ignorance and uncertainty. These scriptures present the never-ceasing obligation of all whom God has blessed with life and health and advantages in temporal and spiritual things.”*
The following paragraphs point out some of these principles:
RECOGNIZE. The law about the offering of the first fruits begins by indicating when it should be done, i.e., “when you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and you possess it and dwell in it” (Deut. 26:1). This was the time sojourners finally reached the Promised Land. All their hopes and dreams and wishes were about to become a reality in their own land.
Unfortunately, in moments like these many of us tend to forget the journey we took to reach the pinnacle of our success. But the opportunity this ceremony offers to reflect on our life’s journey helps us to remember two important things: (1) who we were; and (2) how we reached the place we find ourselves. This will ultimately lead us to recognize that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17).
EXPRESS. This ceremony highlights the important concept that recognition must be more than mere mental assent. The recognition was expressed by offering a basket full of the firstfruits. Apart from being the first chronologically, firstfruits symbolize a desirable product quality. Hence, no matter how eager a farmer is to test the fruits of his labor, yielding the first of his harvest is a fitting expression of putting first things first. Just as the Lord abhors a heartless offering, He appreciates a sacrifice that overflows from a grateful heart (see Luke 7:36-50).
FOCUS. The focus of this ceremony should be on God. The name Yahweh (or “Lord”) appears 14 times in this section, depicting Him as the focal point of all the details of the ceremony. It should be noted that the basket was first placed in front of “the altar of the Lord your God” (Deut. 26:4). Here is a crucial lesson: any religious practice should be focused on God if we hope for a lasting impact.
UTTER. With the presentation of the basket before the Lord the participant had to utter what is known as the “firstfruits recitation” (verses 3, 5-10). These utterances that God prescribed are loaded with important messages. Worshippers recall publicly the dismal state wherein their ancestors found themselves as foreigners. This is an experience with which all humanity under the bondage of sin can identify. In addition, the utterance mentions how the oppressed cried to the Lord and how the Lord heard their voices and looked on their affliction. This divine intervention put a ray of hope on the horizon. As the redeemed continue to utter the praises of Him who called them out of darkness into His marvelous light, they become reflectors and allow the same light to shine into the darkness that many others around them experience (1 Peter 2:9).
GLORIFY. After presenting the basket of the firstfruits and uttering the testimonies, the participant would worship (literally, “prostrate”) before the Lord (Deut. 26:10). This worship gesture demonstrates the attitude of humility and self-denial that we have to experience when we truly want to glorify God. As we worship in humility we are reminded that we were created from the ground; nothing in us warrants pride. In reality, only a life lived for the glory of God by sharing His blessings with others has lasting worth.
EMBRACE. Celebration marks the end of this ceremony. Participants rejoice by sharing their blessings with family and two specifically mentioned groups of people—Levites and strangers. It is important to note how strangers are embraced in this celebration. They are what the host of the feast used to be. During the presentation of the basket before the Lord, the stranger’s physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs are addressed. They too now have the opportunity to experience the blessing of Yahweh as their refuge.
Where Is Our Basket?
There are many baskets out there. Some are full of the “firstfruits” of fortunes, while others are empty in the hands of the unfortunate. Recognizing the true source of our blessing and expressing our gratitude by focusing on the Lord, uttering His testimony, glorifying His name, and embracing the unfortunate will place the overflowing basket and the empty one on the same table.
Remember, we are called to be a refuge for refugees.
* Ellen G. White, “ ‘How Much Owest Thou?” Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Dec. 25, 1900.
Would you like someone to write a book about your next holiday trip? Let’s just hope it won’t be Michael Patrick Ghiglieri.
Half a Bottle Won’t Last
By Judith Fockner
Would you like someone to write a book about your next holiday trip? Let’s just hope it won’t be Michael Patrick Ghiglieri.
I came across his book about 10 years ago, as a newlywed, while on an adventurous trip through the American West. We had been admiring the most magnificent natural wonders and had finally pitched our tent at the Grand Canyon. After a short hike I was browsing through the souvenir shop and stumbled over a 400-page book titled Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon. A thriller? No. I was actually holding a collection entitled Gripping Accounts of All Known Fatal Mishaps in the Most Famous of the World’s Seven Natural Wonders. There had been 683 since the establishment of the national park.
Morbid Summer Reading
Undoubtedly, that’s the type of bedtime story every camper is looking for, I thought. What a find. Here are 683 ways to stay forever. Merely reading the table of contents gave me the creeps. One horror story followed another horror story, all of them true. I never bought the book. But it was meant seriously. Lurid, yes; but at the same time aiming to be educational. Michael Ghiglieri had been a tour guide for many years und therefore knew best how many of those tragic stories could have been prevented.
A large number of the accidents included people falling off cliffs or crashing in airplanes. Hikers drowning or being hit by lightning bolts also seemed to be rather common. Eventually I started wondering about the most frequent cause of death. What was the biggest hazard? Rattlesnakes? No, not a single deadly bite. The answer was much less spectacular.
It was the weather. Most people still fall victim to the high temperatures year by year. “Almost routinely—despite the canyon’s infamous heat, its lack of water . . . hikers underestimate levels of thirst,” writes Ghiglieri. A malicious trap: the giant difference of temperature. It’s possible that you start your climb at the upper rim with a comfortable 26 degrees Celsius (approximately 79 degrees Fahrenheit) and reach the bottom of the canyon at 41 degrees Celsius (or 106 degrees Fahrenheit). Remember, the steep climb back to the top lies still ahead!
The second trap: extremely low humidity. Your sweat evaporates immediately. So you feel as if you’re not sweating at all while losing a lot of water without even moving!
Guidebooks say: Keep drinking all the time. Even start a day before your hike! Take at least 3.8 liters (one gallon) of water per person. Ghiglieri recalls his record, an unbelievable 11 liters (three gallons) of water on a single trip! There are, however, still people who pack a tiny bottle of energy drink, and suffer from dehydration after a few kilometers.
I thought about Ghiglieri’s book recently while facing a stressful situation. You keep going about your daily business with the same greenness as those tourists, I wondered. You get up in the morning, your mood is at a comfortable 26 degrees, and you think: This is going to be an easy tour—half a bottle will do.
The more I thought about it, the more the similarities between a water supply for a major hike and our emotional state hit me: our sense of being loved; the sense that someone understands and appreciates us; the recognition that someone carries us and cares for us.
This is a hot topic in my life. It’s precisely this awareness that provides my whole being with energy and power, such as water does for the human body. I haven’t found the source for this “sense of being loved” within my own being, though, despite having many helpful advisers. So, like in the canyon, I depend on a constant external liquid supply.
And, to paraphrase Ghiglieri: Almost routinely, despite the infamous heat and lack of water, hikers underestimate their levels of thirst and their need for water.
We live in a world and culture that is not exactly known for its overflowing friendliness, care, and acceptance. In fact, competition, selfishness, and indifference are quite normal. People do not naturally love us; they use us. They challenge us. They ignore us. All of this scorches us like the blazing canyon heat and burns up our confidence faster than we realize.
That’s how I feel. I jump into the day with a small positive thought in the morning, a little kindness for the people around me, and a tiny buffer against emotional injuries. After less than three hours of the day’s heat, however, my wonderful attitude has evaporated.
Over the Edge
Here are some indicators of emotional dehydration I have recognized in my own life. I can’t handle people; I find them exhausting, irritating, or obnoxious. And in case they are smart and beautiful, I feel stupid and ugly myself. Sometimes I become easily discouraged and blame others for everything negative in my life. There are many variations to the same theme. I end up missing out on all the good things because of my parched, selfish condition.
The Grand Canyon guidebook says: At the first symptoms, immediately seek some shade, pause, and drink, drink, drink—if you have enough water at hand, that is. I usually expect my basic emotional supply to come from my husband. He has two disadvantages, though: He is neither almighty nor omnipresent. Which means that mostly his mailbox is answering when I need counsel, comfort, or encouragement. There I am, then, sitting at the bottom of the valley, pressing the last drop out of my small bottle, with the climb up still ahead!
At the Source
Honestly, the only One who has proven to be a reliable source of strength in my life is God, the omnipresent one. He’s been there before I was; He’ll always be there. Since I know that He loves me, I don’t need to make myself believe anything. My “sense of being loved” has a totally different quality. The daily heat remains the same, but I live at the source. I drink.
God assures me that He won’t allow me to dehydrate emotionally. He tells us: “Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life” (Rev. 22:17, NIV). I am fascinated how simply and accurately this sentence describes my life. God loves me with a never-ending devotion. Sometimes I avidly drink His words. Sometimes I underestimate my thirst and come crawling back parched. Love! Give me love!
But I gain experience. Remember what they say about the toughest canyon days? Start drinking plenty before your hike.
Judith Fockner, originally from Austria, lives with her husband, Sven, and two sons in Alsbach-Hähnlein, Germany.
An epic story in seven acts that gives us the chance to reach others in a powerful way...
A Story to Tell
By Ty Gibson
The Bible is not a textbook of systematic theology, nor is it a proof-text manual; it is not even a book of good moral advice.
The Bible is, rather, a story.
It’s a grand narrative rich with intersecting characters in an unfolding saga of infinite love, horrific loss, and glorious restoration at last.
At the center of the story is a singular, towering figure. Every prophecy and parable, every song and symbol, every wailing prayer for justice and weeping plea for mercy, every cry for help and longing for love, every episode and act of the story, whispers His name.
The entire Old Testament basically says, He is coming. The entire New Testament says, He has come. A promise made and a promise kept! That’s the whole Bible, the whole story, in a nutshell.
In the Old Testament we hear God saying, I will faithfully love you at any and all cost to Me. No matter your posture toward Me, I will never stop loving you. I will come to your world and enter into your pain. I will bear your shame. I will absorb your sin into My love and overcome its power to destroy you.
In the New Testament we hear God saying, See, I am here, and I will fulfill every aspect of My promise to you. I will love you to the utter end of Myself. All the rage and hatred you can heap upon Me will not conquer, nor even weaken, My love for you. And when I am lifted up on the cross in self-sacrificing love for you, I will draw you back to Me.
Summing up the relation of the two testaments, Paul brilliantly observed, “For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us” (2 Cor. 1:20). In Christ, God has shown His love to be faithful and true by fulfilling every promise He made through the prophets.
The story unfolds in seven epic acts:
1 Pre-Creation: Once upon an eternity, God was all there was. Before all of creation, for eternal ages past, God existed as an expression of other-centered love: Father, Son, and Spirit, the eternal Three as One. The God of the biblical story is not a solitary self, but rather a self-giving friendship, a social unit of nonstop outgoingness. Selflessness defines God and is the foundation of reality.
2 Creation: The physical universe, with all of its rational, thinking, choosing beings, was born from divine love as an expression of God’s character. Creation is simply the demonstration of God’s love in material form. We exist because God is love, and in order to love as God does. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually human beings were engineered to reflect God’s self-giving love back to Him and to one another.
3 Fall: Sin entered the picture as the desire to live for self above and before others, thus generating mistrust, which led to isolation, which led to death. The fall of humankind was basically a falling out of love with God and one another. Sin is not the breaking of arbitrary rules imposed by a controlling God, but rather is anti-love, resulting in breakdown of relationships.
4 Covenant: In response to the Fall, God remained true to His character. The key concept of the biblical story is God’s faithfulness. The story in Genesis reveals how God’s relationship with His people is summed up in the word covenant. In its various forms, the covenant is God’s pledge to continue loving fallen humanity in spite of our rebellion. He will follow through with His plan to save us at any cost to Himself. To accomplish the covenant plan, God establishes in Israel the biological and theological lineage through which His plan will be fulfilled. The prophets of Israel become the channel through which a series of covenant promises and prophecies are proclaimed, all of them pointing to Jesus.
5 Messiah: The Christ event—His birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension—constitute the complete fulfillment of God’s covenant promise. Jesus is God’s love embodied in human form. In Him, covenant is kept from both the divine side of the relationship and from the human side. As God, Jesus was faithful to humanity. As human, He was faithful to God. Salvation is historically, objectively accomplished in Christ as the complete fulfillment of the covenant.
6 Church: The body of Christ is His covenant community. Its mission is to bear witness, through words and actions, to the transforming reality of God’s love. As the good news of God’s faithfulness is communicated to the world, salvation, liberation, and healing happen for every person who says “yes” to the message. Saying “yes” is what the Bible calls “faith,” which is exercised when individuals identify with Christ and live for Him. This is the subjective experience of redemption in Christ Jesus.
7 Re-Creation: As the Bible story reaches its climax, everything contrary to God’s love will be eradicated. Only that which is good and beautiful will remain for all eternity. The story promises the final removal of evil and the restoration of all things to God’s ideal. Redeemed humanity will finally enter into the eternal bliss of other-centered, social integration God had planned from the beginning. God’s love will reign supreme in every heart as the only motive behind every thought, feeling, and deed.
This is the whole Bible at a glance, and this is the message God raised up the Advent movement to proclaim to the world. Our understanding of the Bible serves its true purpose only when we tell this story. It is the most enchanting and moving and mind-blowing story that can be told, because it tells of a God who loves each of us more than His own existence; one who would rather die forever than live without us.
If we tell this story, our own people, as well as those we try to reach, will spontaneously jump into the narrative to play their part.
Ty Gibson is lead pastor of the Storyline Adventist Church in Eugene, Oregon, United States. He has authored eight books and codirects Light Bearers, an international publishing, teaching, and media ministry.
We can use our connections, time, and gifts in order to bring people to Jesus Christ...
Meeting God Face to Face
By S. Joseph Kidder and Kristy L. Hodsonl
The Bible includes the stories of a handful of people who met God face to face.
Perhaps the clearest record of such a life-changing encounter was recorded in Isaiah 6:1-8. Isaiah saw a heavenly worship scene. Angelic beings surrounded God, giving Him adoration and praise. These angels hovered by the throne of God, singing of His holiness and glory. Overwhelmed, Isaiah felt unworthy of this vision. He felt ashamed and ruined because of his sinfulness.
But this was not the end of the experience; one of the angels touched Isaiah’s mouth with a live coal from the altar, taking away his guilt and pronouncing forgiveness. God then offered Isaiah an opportunity to serve by asking, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” (verse 8).
The prophet did not hesitate. This encounter with the glory of God prompted Isaiah to make himself available: “Here am I! Send me” (verse 8).
Catching a Glimpse of God
Like Isaiah, before we can be available to God, we must first catch a glimpse of God. God must minister to us; only then can we hear God’s voice telling us what He wants us to do. We are to respond with an attitude of gratitude, not obligation, because He has cleansed us through the blood of Jesus. There is a sense of healing in our lives. We want to serve God because of who He is and what He has done for us. The wonder of the sacrifice of Christ must be the driving factor in all we do. When we rediscover God’s grandeur, we are compelled to minster on behalf of the only One who can offer atonement for sin.
An experience with God affects how we see the world. Isaiah heard God’s heartbeat for a lost and dying people. We too must hear God’s summons to reach out to broken people in our community. God called; Isaiah answered. This unconditional response comes only from the heart of one who has seen the vision; one who has met with God. Once we’ve seen the Lord, we go where He sends us.
Isaiah did not say, “What’s in it for me?” He signed over his whole life. Because he had seen God’s nature and character, Isaiah reprioritized his life and put God’s mission first. He came to see service for God as worship.
We See—Then We Serve
Ellen White also connected worship and service. “True worship consists in working together with Christ. Prayer, exhortation, and talk are cheap fruits, which are frequently tied on, but fruits that are manifested in good works, in caring for the needy, the fatherless, and widows, are genuine fruits, and grow naturally upon a good tree.”* Service is the result of becoming overwhelmed with appreciation for the One who heals brokenness with love.
The heart of worship is being available to God on a daily basis. It is not a onetime act on Sabbath morning; it is a day-to-day experience. Therefore, for Christians there is no such thing as sacred and secular. Everything belongs to God. Whether we eat, drink, play, or work, we do it all in the presence of God and for His glory (1 Cor. 10:31). Worship is a lifestyle.
A life of worship makes us available to the Holy Spirit and eager to see His work done in us.
Once we come to understand the gospel, the sacrifice Christ has made for us, and the grace of His enduring love, then we will realize that renewal and cleansing come from above. We will be led to a response of service. Such was the case for Ann.
Overwhelmed and Available
One day I [Joseph] received a card in the mail from a woman asking for Bible studies. When I knocked on her door, she said that she was not interested in studying the Bible and had not sent the card. I asked if she would allow me to pray for her, and she consented.
She then told me about her neighbor across the street who might be interested in a Bible study. When I went across the street, a woman, 73 years old, drunk and smoking, opened the door. I asked her if she would like to study the Bible. She did not have anything to do, so she said “yes.” I started to study the Bible with Ann. After some time she accepted Christ as her Lord and Savior.
During a study on the greatness of the power of God, Ann became overwhelmed. She broke down crying and asked how she could experience that power to overcome her smoking and drinking. We arranged a time for the church elders to come for an anointing service. After that service God gave her victory over those bad habits.
A few weeks later she was baptized. I visited her the next day. I wanted Ann to consider how she could incorporate worship and service into her life. How would she live out a response to the greatness of God and His forgiveness? What mission was God giving to her? “Ann, do you have a family?” I asked. “I have a huge family.” “God has a mandate for you. He wants you to win your family to Him.” “How am I going to do that?” “Pray and make yourself available to be used by God.”
About three and a half years later the union communication director came to shoot a video of Ann on Sabbath morning. Picture the scene: Ann stood in the middle of the platform surrounded by 57 people that she had led to the Lord, including Jena, the woman who had refused to study the Bible with me.
The communication director went around asking the 57 people, “Why are you an Adventist today?” He always got the same answer: “We saw the change in Ann’s life, and we wanted it.”
Then he turned to Ann. “What did you do to win your family and friends to the Lord?”
“I prayed for them day and night. Then the Lord showed me many ways to strengthen my relationship with them and meet their needs. When the time was right, I invited them to church, a Bible study in my home, or an evangelistic meeting. Every time one of them became a Christian, that person joined me in praying for the rest. God has been so good to us.”
This is the power of prayer, relationship, and ministry, the power of an ongoing process. It is the power of personal spirituality and seeing God. When we have an experience with God, we are overcome with a desire to share Him with others. Isaiah and Ann met with God and had a revelation of His greatness, and it changed their lives. The same living Lord is anxious to meet with us. In true worship we experience the presence of God, and it changes us and leads us to service.
Have you had a “throne room” experience? Have you heard God’s voice? accepted His call to service? Open your heart to Him today. Worship Him through praise and service. Meet God face to face and allow yourself to be available to Him.
*Ellen G. White, in Review and Herald, Aug. 16, 1881.
Seeing faithfulness to God through different lenses and experiences from the Bible...
Snapshots of Faithfulness
By Chantal J. Klingbeil
“Then Jonathan said to the young man who bore his armor, ‘Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; it may be that the Lord will work for us.
For nothing restrains the Lord from saving by many or by few’ ” (1 Sam. 14:6).
Jonathan, how did you get it right? (I often find life so complicated. It sometimes seems impossible to be faithful to the people around me when they are not meeting my needs.) How were you able to be faithful to your father, King Saul, who even tried to kill you twice? You always remained loyal and faithful to your family. And, at the same time, you were faithful to your friend David, who was being hunted by your father. You remained best friends and swore loyalty to David, even when you realized that he would take your throne. How did you do it?
“And he said to his men, ‘The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord’ ” (1 Sam. 24:6).
David, you were given a golden opportunity in that cave. King Saul, who had been hunting you for so long, entered the cave completely oblivious to your crouching men. (I hate waiting. I hate waiting for things that I consider my right. Waiting and waiting and not seeing God actively working the way I believe He should be is a real test of faith for me.) It would have been so easy; it even seemed providential. The sword would have found its mark, and all your months of living in the wilderness like a hunted animal would have been ended and the path to the throne wide open. And yet you chose not to take Saul’s life. You waited for God’s timing. Being still and waiting—being faithful to God’s timing. How did you do it?
“And Uriah said to David, ‘The ark and Israel and Judah are dwelling in tents, and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are encamped in the open fields. Shall I then go to my house to eat and drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing’ ” (2 Sam. 11:11).
Even though you are known as “the Hittite,” you were faithful to your adopted country and faithful to your God. (I find being faithful difficult when it means going against the flow. Being faithful means holding on to something even when others let me down, even when others try to manipulate or bribe me.) You were loyal and brave. You set high standards, and you kept to high standards. It was so much a part of the fabric of your being that gifts, bribery, or even perfectly permissible pleasures couldn’t distract you from that loyalty and faithfulness. Nothing could persuade you to go home and take a break as long as the ark of God and the Lord’s army were on the battlefield. You paid for your faithfulness with your life. How did you do it?
“Then Mary said, ‘Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word’ ” (Luke 1:38).
With just a flash of an angel’s wings you were ready to have your life turned upside down. (I am more inclined to look for a tame faith. I prefer something that I think I can control. To be faithful to God when I don’t see any immediate benefits is hard.) What about all your carefully laid plans for your wedding? What would Joseph say? What would the neighbors say? What about a lifetime of living with the shame? You just simply said “yes” to a lifetime of whispers when you entered a room, a lifetime of being misunderstood and judged to be someone you were not. What made you simply say “Behold the maidservant of the Lord”?
“And Elijah said to her, ‘Do not fear; go and do as you have said, but make me a small cake from it first, and bring it to me; and afterward make some for yourself and your son’ ” (1 Kings 17:13).
You were a poor widow from the city of Zarephath. He was asking for your last bit of oil and flour. You had a son to think of. What was it about this foreign man of God that gave you the assurance that what he said was true? Why did you go home and make him that last bread? I suppose you didn’t have too much to lose. It was the last meal anyway. (I sometimes hang on very tightly to things. Being faithful often involves letting go of the stuff that my life revolves around. Having too much can be a curse and not a blessing.) You gave up your last bit of material security and threw your family into the arms of this unknown God. What made you take this leap of faith? Jonathan, David, Uriah, Mary, Joseph, the widow of Zarephath, none of you were perfect.
I’m sure that you all had your moments of doubt, and yet the story of your lives could be titled Faithful. Your faith was a reaction to meeting the Faithful One.
You caught glimpses of your Creator, who was not constrained by the visible but could look at a formless empty world and see trees and animals and then speak them into being.
You understood that here was Someone who loved you so much, who saw such potential in you, that He would be willing to die rather than spend eternity without you.
You were prepared to let go of how you thought things should be, and you chose to trust this God even when the outcome was so different from what you had ever imagined.
Thank you for sharing your faith. The testimony of your lives challenges me.
“How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9).
Joseph, you were far away from home. You were on your own in Egypt. Your brothers had sold you. (It’s one thing being faithful when everyone is watching. I find it so much harder when no one will ever know. It is hard to be faithful when duty and desire go in opposite directions.)
You had to watch out for yourself, and then Mrs. Potiphar made her move. She represented an opportunity for you. She made an offer that would be so hard to refuse, and yet you turned from it and fled, even leaving your coat behind. What made you faithful to your pagan master? How could you still be faithful to a God who had let you be torn away from everything that had made life worth living?
Night and day the earnest young man struggled to find peace with God. Torturing his body, he fasted and prayed, racking his brains to confess every sin he had ever committed. Nothing worked.
God's Way of Righteousness
Simple, easy, uncomplicated
By William G. Johnsson
Night and day the earnest young man struggled to find peace with God. Torturing his body, he fasted and prayed, racking his brains to confess every sin he had ever committed. Nothing worked. After hours spent in confession, he would awake in the middle of the night with a terrifying thought: What about the sins he could not remember, those that still lay unconfessed and would condemn him before an angry God? The struggling soul was the monk Martin Luther. His life-and-death quest to find righteousness gave birth to the Protestant Reformation. Luther tried every path to peace that the church of his day offered, but all in vain. At last, however, he found what he desperately craved through study of Paul’s letter to the Romans. “Night and day,” he wrote later, “I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that ‘the just shall live by his faith.’ Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.”1 Luther’s liberating discovery was an idea utterly foreign to human thought to this point. We do not earn righteousness by our human striving; instead, God freely reckons His righteousness to us as we trust Him. Not our efforts, but God’s gift. Not because of our good works, but through faith—this is God’s way of righteousness. The book of Romans rings with this glorious affirmation. It is indeed the gospel, good news. “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’?” (Rom. 1:17).2 “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Rom. 3:21, 22).
The Teachings of Jesus Long before Luther discovered the liberating good news of righteousness by faith, Jesus had emphasized the concept. He did not employ closely reasoned arguments the way Paul did, but used disarmingly simple, profound illustrations and parables. The religious leaders of Jesus’ society had constructed an elaborate theology that centered on the law. They counted 613 commandments in the Pentateuch, and to them they added a series of oral traditions designed to establish a hedge around the 613 stipulations. Thus, to the plain Sabbath commandment in the Decalogue they had added a long list, specifying what activities were permitted and what were not. Jesus clashed sharply with the scribes and Pharisees over their view of religion. In the Sermon on the Mount He told His hearers: “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). Disputing with them over their rules concerning ceremonial purity, He said: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions” (Mark 7:9). Jesus raised the bar of righteousness so high that the whole system of attempting to please God by scrupulous attention to detailed observances collapsed under its own weight. He taught that in God’s eyes righteousness is more than not committing murder, adultery, and so on: God’s righteousness embraces even our thoughts and motives so that hate and lust make us transgressors of the law (see Matt. 5:21-47). This was a righteousness of an altogether new order, a righteousness beyond human achievement, a righteousness that Jewish religious teachers never attempted to embrace. This was a righteousness so demanding that humans can never attain it, a righteousness that only God can provide as a gift. Over and over the parables of Jesus surprise, even shock, the reader. They reverse the way the world functions. Here someone who works only one hour receives the same pay as the person who labors the whole day (Matt. 20:1-16). Here two men go to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee who gives his whole life to strict observance of the law, the other a tax collector, someone despised by others because he serves the interest of the hated Roman overlords and grows rich by unscrupulous practices. The Pharisee as he prays thanks the Lord that he isn’t like other people, certainly not like the tax collector standing nearby. By contrast, the tax man simply bows his head and says, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). And surprise! God accepts the prayer of the tax collector, not the Pharisee’s. In another parable Jesus tells about a king who prepares a huge banquet. He invites a list of guests, but for one flimsy excuse or another they all refuse to come. Then the king orders his servants to go out on the streets and into the lanes and bring all whom they find to the celebration. These new guests are a motley lot, but for every one of them the king provides a wedding garment. Later, however, as he greets the guests, he discovers a man who isn’t wearing wedding clothes. He orders that person thrown out of the party (Matt. 22:1-14). Jesus’ mode of teaching differs from Paul’s, but the ideas are the same: we do not earn God’s righteousness; He gives it to us. Our part is to trust Him and accept His gift.
In the Old Testament Some Christians draw a heavy line between the Old Testament and the New Testament, asserting that the former is the era of works, the latter the era of grace. Not so: righteousness by faith runs like a golden thread from Genesis to Revelation. We read that “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). The apostle Paul underscores this passage in both Romans (4:1-4) and Galatians (3:6-9). Jeremiah calls Yahweh “The Lord Our Righteousness” (Jer. 23:6, NKJV),3 a wonderful name that gives hope to despairing sinners. In the book of Zechariah the prophet sees a vision of Joshua the high priest clothed in filthy garments. He represents the people of Israel in their great need; but then a comforting word comes from heaven: “?‘Take off his filthy clothes.’ . . . ‘See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you’?” (Zech. 3:4). Many additional examples of righteousness by faith might be cited from the Old Testament. One passage, however, is so outstanding that we cannot leave it unmentioned. In Isaiah 52:13-53:12 we find a powerful description of the Suffering Servant who “bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12). He was “despised and rejected by mankind. . . . He took up our pain and bore our suffering. . . . He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. . . . The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (verses 3-6). Here, approximately 700 years before Jesus’ birth, we find encapsulated the ministry of our Savior. Here we gaze into the heart of God’s plan to save a lost world: God’s own Son, His Suffering Servant, takes upon Himself our guilt and shame.
In Adventist History In every age the gospel has seemed too good to be true. Whenever it is proclaimed, it arouses opposition, just as it did when Paul brought it to the Galatians. Not surprisingly, therefore, Adventist history presents a mixed picture with regard to righteousness by faith. Early Adventist preachers, feeling called to declare the importance of the Sabbath, tended to focus on the law rather than the gospel. They preached the law to such an extent that Ellen White stated that their sermons were “as dry as the hills of Gilboa.”4 Matters came to a head at the General Conference session of 1888, held in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Two young ministers, Ellet J. Waggoner and Alonzo T. Jones, sounded the theme of righteousness by faith alone. Leaders of the church, thinking that this emphasis weakened the arguments for the law and the Sabbath, opposed them strongly. So Waggoner and Jones stood alone against George I. Butler, president of the General Conference; Uriah Smith, editor of the Review and Herald; as well as other stalwarts. Not quite alone! One leader publicly espoused the cause: Ellen G. White. In a sad turn of events, however, she found her counsel rejected. But the gospel was unstoppable, just as it has been in every age. Following the 1888 General Conference session, especially under Ellen White’s leadership by pen and voice, the message of righteousness by faith slowly advanced, wider and wider, further and further, until it became an established teaching of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Ellen White penned some of the loveliest expressions of the gospel found anywhere. Echoing Isaiah’s prophecy of the Suffering Servant, she wrote: “Christ was treated as we deserve, that we might be treated as He deserves. He was condemned for our sins, in which He had no share, that we might be justified by His righteousness, in which we had no share. He suffered the death which was ours, that we might receive the life which was His. ‘With his stripes we are healed.’?”5 Commenting on Jesus’ parable of the man without a wedding garment, she noted: “Only the covering which Christ Himself has provided can make us meet to appear in God’s presence. This covering, the robe of His own righteousness, Christ will put upon every repenting, believing soul. ‘I counsel thee,’ He says, ‘to buy of me . . . white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear’ (Rev. 3:18, KJV). “This robe, woven in the loom of heaven, has in it not one thread of human devising.”6 During Adventism’s struggle over the gospel, editor Uriah Smith wrote a series of editorials in the Review in which he argued that we need Christ’s righteousness to be justified, but after we accept Christ we must develop a righteousness of our own by keeping the law. Ellen White rebuked him sharply in a letter. She stated that she had read Smith’s editorial and that a “noble personage” had stood beside her and told her that Uriah Smith “is walking like a blind man into the prepared net of the enemy, but he feels no danger because light is becoming darkness to him and darkness light.”7 Of all Ellen White’s numerous gems on righteousness by faith, here is my favorite: “To him who is content to receive without deserving, who feels that he can never recompense such love, who lays all doubt and unbelief aside, and comes as a little child to the feet of Jesus, all the treasures of eternal love are a free, everlasting gift.”8
A Question Friend of mine, I leave you with this question: Are you content to receive without deserving? Are you willing to admit that all your righteousness—all your work, all your service, all your good living—counts for nothing before God’s holiness, that it is only filthy rags? Will you, leaving aside every human boast and all pride, simply accept God’s righteousness as the free gift of His marvelous grace?
1-Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1940), p. 68. 2-Unless otherwise noted, Bible texts in this article are from the New International Version. 3-Bible texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. 4-In Review and Herald, Mar. 11, 1890. 5-The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), p. 25. 6-Christ’s Object Lessons (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1900), p. 311. 7-Letter 55, 1889, in The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials (Washington, D.C.: Ellen G. White Estate, 1987), p. 336. 8-Letter 19e, 1892, in Ellen G. White, Manuscript Releases (Silver Spring, Md.: Ellen G. White Estate, 1990), vol. 8, p. 186.
Fishermen are busy with their fishing nets. A man appears on the shore of the lake. He begins to speak. More and more people gather around Him. Then they witness a miracle. They willingly leave their nets and, ultimately, abandon their work and follow Him.
Spur of a Moment—or Well Thought Through?
We are called to follow Jesus wherever we are
By Bernd Sengewald
Fishermen are busy with their fishing nets. A man appears on the shore of the lake. He begins to speak. More and more people gather around Him. Then they witness a miracle. They willingly leave their nets and, ultimately, abandon their work and follow Him. They give up everything that protected their livelihood and instead, without any security, decide to follow someone little known to them into an uncertain future (Matt. 4:18-22). Have you ever marveled at this story in the Gospels when Peter, Andrew, James, and John just seem to leave everything to follow Jesus? Did you ever ask yourself if you’d be willing to do the same—spontaneous and spur of the moment-like?
What’s the Model? If you’re anything like me, you would like to have a little more time to think and, above all, pray about such a far-reaching decision; and you would like to know as much as possible about the person whom you are planning to follow.
Here is good news: Peter, Andrew, James, and John did not just decide at the spur of a moment. The particular incident recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke took place around the summer of Jesus’ twenty-ninth year, roughly one and a half to two years after Jesus began His public ministry.1
This point gets overlooked easily; yet it becomes obvious from a careful study of the biblical text. In Matthew 4:12 we read: “Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee.” The same reference can be found in Mark 1:14, and the context in Luke also makes it clear that Jesus had already begun His ministry in Galilee when He invited the fishermen to follow Him. Jesus was active before the arrest of John the Baptist.
However, these reports are found only in the Gospel of John. There we read of the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-12), the first cleansing of the Temple (verses 13-17), followed by the succinct words: “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did” (verse 23). John writes about the nighttime encounter with Nicodemus (John 3:1-21) and that both Jesus and John the Baptist baptized at the same time. In connection with the latter we read: “Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there. And they came and were baptized. For John had not yet been thrown into prison” (verses 23, 24).
When Jesus came to Galilee the second time, His popularity among the people was so great that a royal court official, living 25 kilometers (about 15 miles) from where Jesus was staying, heard that He was back in the region and traveled from Capernaum to Cana to ask Jesus to heal His son (John 4:45-47).
The four people who seemingly left everything spontaneously to follow Jesus actually had a lot of time and opportunity to get to know their Lord and Savior. They were very closely associated with Him, and they saw and experienced how He lived (John 1:35-42). They heard His preaching and saw His miracles. They even baptized on His behalf (John 4:2). Jesus Christ did not require a spur-of-the-moment decision from them. A short while after His baptism, Jesus had taken them in as part-time disciples (John 1:35-51), and now, about one and a half to two years later, He called them to full-time discipleship.2 As human beings, we usually need our time—especially for important decisions. Jesus acknowledged this fact with His disciples.
Immediately With Jesus However, there is also an “immediately” when Jesus calls. For example, as the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well became convicted that she was in the presence of the Messiah, she immediately left her water jar and went into her village. There she spoke openly and enthusiastically about her newfound faith, and consequently there was a great movement among the local population (John 4:28-42).
The demoniac of Gergesa in the Decapolis region is another example. His plea to be allowed to stay with Jesus was refused. Instead, Jesus told him to go to his family and talk about the miracle that had taken place in his life. The man left Jesus and wandered throughout the region of the Decapolis to talk about his experience (Mark 5:18-20). Sometime later, when Jesus visited the region again, 4,000 people gathered to meet Him. For three days He taught and healed them, concluding in the second account with a miracle feeding. In contrast to the feeding of the 5,000, where mostly Jews were present, in this case most of the people were Gentiles from the Decapolis region. In other words, they were from the home of the former demoniac of Gergesa, who had immediately begun to share his experience with Jesus Christ (Matt. 15:29-39).
Follow Me It’s important to take what we have learned from Jesus, immediately put it into action, and pass the blessing on to others. Undoubtedly, this is one way of responding to Jesus’ “Follow Me.” Yet Jesus Himself was careful, and His service to others was well thought through. He knows our hearts and how much He may, at times, require of us.
By the way: Have you ever noticed that Jesus’ preaching followed the same model? In Acts 1:8 He said: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” In the first year and a half of His ministry, Jesus preached only in Jerusalem and Judea. When the resistance by the Jewish leadership became too great there, He took His kingdom message to Galilee. However, on His way He stopped in Samaria (Matt. 4:12) and preached there. When the resistance in Galilee became too great (John 6:66), He ministered in areas where Gentiles lived, including in the region of the Decapolis (Matt. 16:13).3
It’s easy to overlook important links and intriguing aspects of the ministry of Jesus when we read rapidly through the Gospels. Chronology is not always easy to grasp. But everything has and takes its time, especially when it comes to human beings. Christ’s “Follow Me” still invites us today to entrust our lives completely to Jesus. He knows exactly what we need most, and when we need it.
1 The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1956), vol. 5, pp. 315, 316. Compare additional notes on Luke 4 in SDABC, vol. 5, charts on pp. 216-218 and 229-231.
When I was in elementary school, I was pretty attached to my grandparents, who, unfortunately, lived far from us. But a few times a year they would come to visit for weeks at a time.
Hope Wins Over Loss
By Wilona Karimabadi
When I was in elementary school, I was pretty attached to my grandparents, who, unfortunately, lived far from us. But a few times a year they would come to visit for weeks at a time. It was always a welcome treat for me, for it involved some bending of the weekday rules: delicious treats always ready after school, late-night story time, and many other elements typical of grandparents who know how to spoil their grandkids. To me, their visit made the day-to-day routine of school, homework, and strict bedtime seem much more lighthearted and vacation-like.
Those fun days would roll by quickly, however. And before I knew it, we’d be at the airport saying goodbye. Then it would be back to the normal routine, which felt devastating, because, let’s be honest, in most cases grandparents trump parents. They would promise a phone call on arrival, saying that it wouldn’t be long before we’d be together again, but I don’t remember that making me feel a lot better. Perhaps I was an overly sensitive child, but after their plane disappeared from view (this was before September 11), I’d literally sink into depression. I’m not kidding—I would cry every day, roam listlessly around the house, and generally not be able to smile. Thankfully, this malaise would last only about a week. But I behaved as if I were in mourning. So much so that my parents quickly grew frustrated with my tears and sullen face, reminding me that my grandparents were very much alive and only a phone call away. But it wasn’t the same.
Sure, I knew I could hear their voices whenever I wanted to, but that amounted to nothing in comparison to their physical presence—to seeing them and being around them on a daily basis. To this day, I still remember how lost I felt when they’d leave, with a void in my stomach where nothing seemed fun anymore and I just felt so utterly sad.
Those Poor Disciples
I’ve been working through a one-year nonconsecutive Bible reading plan, which, at the time of this writing, has me in week 40 of 52. It’s been a fulfilling experience, as I’ve been reminded of scriptures I’ve known and loved, and delved into many new ones, some leaving me awed and others causing me to scratch my head. But as I’ve read through the Gospels and recounted the disciples’ experiences with Jesus, I have really felt for them, for during Christ’s crucifixion and eventual ascension, their sense of loss had to have been horrible.
After years of walking and talking with their Savior, the One for whom they had left everything and everyone to follow, He was gone. I can just imagine how they felt in those dark hours after He died on the cross. Of course they knew what He had taught them. And I imagine they believed in His promises never to leave them, even if they could no longer be in His physical presence. But it had to have felt so bittersweet when He returned to heaven.
We do know that after His resurrection, He didn’t leave them just yet. “After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave them many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).*
The disciples asked the Lord about His plans to restore the kingdom of Israel. Perhaps in their human hearts and minds they wished for Christ to come through in the way they always thought He would, accomplishing the redemption of His people once and for all, right then and there. I’m sure they hoped against hope that at the end of it all their beloved Savior wouldn’t have to actually leave them again. But Christ reminded them that only the Father had the time frame absolutely right. In the meantime, however, He really was planning on making good on His promise to be with them always and, most important, to empower them. “But you will will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (verse 8).
A Promise Made Good
As my grandparents would encourage me over the phone once they made it to their own home safely, I believed that it really wouldn’t be long until we saw each other again. And after my weeklong depression finally abated, it got easier to look forward to that. Being busy with tasks at hand—school, friends, childhood life—certainly helped.
The disciples had big tasks of their own to accomplish now—to go and tell. Christ had challenged them to preach and teach in His name, establishing His kingdom on earth, preparing His people for His eventual return, a work that continues with us. I’m sure it had to have felt overwhelming to even think of what lay ahead as they watched Him taken up into the sky until that cloud hid Him from their sight (verse 9). But Christ wasn’t about to leave them without more encouragement—awe-inspiring encouragement.
“They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven’?” (verses 10, 11).
I believe that in that moment their heavy hearts were lightened with that one element that still eases our burdens today: hope.
My childhood sadness was finally quelled with the promise of seeing my beloved grandparents again, and soon. And when they passed away years later, my adult sadness and the longing I still feel for them from time to time is again quelled with that same hope. I will see them again, and soon.
This hope carried the disciples forward. And it is that same hope that carries us forward today, until we reach that moment when goodbyes will truly be a thing of the past. What a lot we have to look forward to!